Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fabulous Floating Island

Made with pantry staples and delectably creamy, floating island is a popular dessert for my family.  It's cool and refreshing and pretty healthy (I consider eggs healthy).  Floating island is puffs of lightly sweetened meringue floating on English pouring custard (also called crème anglaise or custard sauce).  You have to make the pouring custard on the stovetop, and then you run the meringue briefly under the broiler, so it's a relatively cool dessert to make in my un-air conditioned house.  The taste is just lovely lightness, totally more than the sum of the simple milk, sugar, eggs, and lemon zest.  And truly, I can make this dessert in about a half hour, not including time to chill. 

I long thought it was a British nursery dessert, but I noticed when I was reading my new issue of Saveur that Abigail Adams served it at the opening reception for the newly built White House in 1801.  I love stories with my cuisine.

My recipe is from the 1953 Joy of Cooking, but it's a common recipe. However, if you wish, I will post it here.

Updated with recipe, with a little help from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food
Floating Island
Scald (heat without boiling) in a medium saucepan:
2 cups milk

While it's heating, beat slightly:
3 egg yolks (put the whites aside in a mixing bowl)
3 Tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

Carefully temper the egg yolk mixture by pouring in a few tablespoons of hot milk, stirring all the while.  Set the pan of hot milk back over a low flame and slowly pour the tempered egg yolk mixture into the milk, stirring continuously.  Continue to stir and cook over low until it begins to thicken (this happens around 170 F and it can happen quickly, steaming as if it's going to boil but do not let it boil).  It will be thicker than milk, but not like pudding - it's a pouring custard, remember.   Remove from heat, pour into a heat proof dish (I use a square glass baking dish).  Add some flavoring:  lemon zest is traditional with floating island, but you can also use 1 tsp. rum or vanilla extract.  Allow to cool on the counter while you make the meringue.

Whip until stiff:
3 egg white
pinch cream of tartar
1/8 tsp. salt

Add slowly, still whipping:
2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Heap the meringue on the custard in blobs.  Run under the broiler until the meringue is toasty tan - watch very closely because it happens fast!  Serve the floating island then or chill it.


You Can Call Me Jane said...

I'd love the recipe, Margo. Please post:-).

Deanna Beth said...

OMW! You MUST post the recipe. This HAS to be the dish I'm looking for and have been all my adult life! My dad was a milk hauler during my growing up years and took the milk from the farms to the dairy. Once in a great while, he was told at the dairy that the bacteria count was too high for the dairy to use and he would have to dump the milk. Once my mother took a gallon or so of the raw milk and made something like this dish. Your description is spot on as what I remember. The photo is not exactly as I remember. I remember smaller floating islands, but yes, they must have been meringue, as you say. A few years later, when Dad had another load of milk that had to be dumped, I asked Mom to make it again. Those were the only two times in my life I've had it. I looked for a recipe online once, but Mom only called it "Float" and my search was fruitless.

I don't know why Mom chose to make it with raw milk. Maybe because it was a cooked dish? Or maybe it was a coincidence that she wanted to make a milky dish and Dad had all this milk going to waste and then I just associated it with the high-bacteria milk as a kid.


Christian - Modobject@Home said...

My father-in-law adores boiled custard. I think he would enjoy this dessert very much. I've never heard of it before.

Ellie Rigby said...

That looks delciious, and I HATE custard.
Those are some fine cooking skills you have.

Beth said...

I've never heard of a dessert like this. You have such interesting and fun recipes!

Marie Rayner said...

That certainly looks delicious Margo! I'll be sure to try broiling my meringue next time! Xx